Choosing the Right Consumer Power Chairs to Sell

There is an upside to the corner that the first-month purchase option and competitive bidding dilemmas have pushed dealers into. Suppliers are quickly homing in on which power chair traits to seek for maximum inventory turn. And this attention to details is reaping unexpected benefits, reports Joe Chesna, national sales director of standard power at Pride Mobility Products, based in Exeter, Pa.

"With the rising prices of back-end costs like gasoline and tools to service these chairs, I can't think of anything more important to our providers right now than quality," he says. Pride refers to this as its SPARC principle, or Superior Products at a Reduced Cost. Other manufacturers just stick with the word "quality."

"Consumers look for a wide variety of things when selecting a power wheelchair, just like they do when buying a car or furniture for their home," points out Pat O'Brien, director of marketing for Golden Technologies in Old Forge, Pa. "There are so many things involved with this purchase. One doesn't necessarily outrank the others, but quality is huge."

So is being specific. Rather than relying on catchy marketing phrases when staring at your purchase orders or talking with customers, investigate these fiscally responsible features for yourself:

Defining "easy-to-maintain": Manufacturers always assure dealers their product is sound. In your service department, that has to translate to everything being easy to reach, with no difficult parts to remove or replace. "If it takes a shorter amount of time to service our model versus the competition, ours is a better selection," Chesna shrugs.

Another Chesna example: If the chair uses an inline motor, which is essentially still two motors, does it also have two gearboxes? That's not efficient or cost effective from the manufacturing standpoint, he notes.

Be specific about durability: "You can buy a very inexpensive cell phone or an iPhone. Inevitably, they both place calls," Chesna adds. "Motors and components within power chairs are the same way."

That's one reason why Golden Technologies' power chairs now feature fewer wires to connect than previous models.

Double-check adjustability: Yes, consumer power chairs are often more basic products than those built for the complex rehab market, but buyers may still want the option to swap out seats to match their changing comfort needs or pants sizes. Kudos if you can exchange a standard captain's seat for tilt or other rehab seating.

Will they fall in love with it? The good news is the Baby Boomers are dumping 27 million potential customers into this industry. The bummer is this audience likes its choices, and they want to see them on your showroom floor. That's a lot of upfront costs.

The trick, says O'Brien, is to only offer choices that fit in your slice of this Boomer pie. "If you are in a poorer demographic area where people rely solely on Medicare or insurance to pay for mobility products, stay away from models with bells and whistles that aren't reimbursable," she says.

On the other hand, if you're looking at younger retirees with discretionary income, stock several colors. Younger users value style and pizzazz, along with the ability to drive these babies on the baseball field to congratulate their grandkids on the win. If your city is a candidate for a Jamie Oliver makeover, it's a smart move to stock a few bariatric models designed to support 500 pounds or more.

"We've been telling dealers for years, before the economy took its turn for the worse, 'Medicare will change. Reimbursement levels will drop. You need to get into retail sales,'" O'Brien says. "We have dealers who made this investment four years ago and are doing very well today despite the atmosphere."

About the Author

Award-winning journalist Julie Sturgeon of CEOEditor, Inc., is an online contributing writer for Mobility Management.

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